UW classes to start online

LARAMIE — Less than two weeks before classes are to resume, the University of Wyoming’s administrators have decided to pivot to a phased reopening plan for the fall semester.

With only about 1,500 students, mostly freshmen, being allowed on campus for the first two weeks, in-person classes aren’t scheduled to start until September.

President Ed Seidel presented the idea to the board during its meeting Wednesday morning, saying that after speaking with officials from universities across the country, he felt it’s necessary to postponing having all students return to campus until supply chains allow UW to test all faculty, staff and students twice weekly for COVID-19.

The fall semester will still resume on Aug, 24, however, Seidel proposed that all courses be offered online-only until Sept. 7. Along with freshmen, other students expected to be on-campus the first two weeks include first-generation college students and any students who might be doing lab work that can’t be done from home.

All faculty, staff and students on campus would have to be routinely tested for COVID-19. Students will attend classes virtually, but would be allowed to live in the dorms during this time. Faculty and staff would be encouraged to work remotely as their schedule allowed.

Seidel even suggested that the students who work with the university during the early weeks of this first phase — doing work on efforts like contact tracing — be rewarded with a tuition-free credit (or more) in the following terms.

“This allows us to build up the time, the experience and the staff so we can be prepared for the entire student population to return,” Seidel told the board. “I think this would be a good way to move forward.”

The second portion of the plan, starting Sept. 7, would mean around 3,500 students would be allowed back on campus and in-person instruction could resume to an extent. Certain employees whose roles are critical to working in person at the university will also be allowed to return.

During the board meeting, it wasn’t decided which students would be a part of the 2,000 allowed to come back to campus during the second phase, but it was noted that it would be discussed at a later time.

A random sampling of faculty, staff and students would be tested for COVID-19 throughout the second phase, which is expected to last until late September or early October. By the third phase, officials expect all students to return to campus for eight weeks of in-person learning.

While more employees would be allowed on the campus again during the third phase, some would still be encouraged to work remotely when possible.

COVID-19 testing would also increase, with Seidel planning to have every person on campus tested for the virus twice a week.

The fourth phase will continue as originally planned, with students returning home after Thanksgiving break and finishing the semester virtually. Employees would continue working as per their department’s staffing plan.

Testing would be conducted based on the prevalence of COVID-19 on the campus.

Seidel admitted that, although the goal was to allow all students back on campus beginning Aug. 24, it wasn’t feasible due to the lack of COVID-19 testing equipment available. While UW has ordered enough to test everyone on campus regularly, the items won’t be shipped for another four to six weeks.

UW professor and epidemiologist Brant Shoemaker told the board that while there was no way to completely eliminate the risk of COVID-19, the university’s approach to testing would at least somewhat minimize the risk.

The board agreed the phased approach would be the best decision, allowing officials to prepare for the influx of the entire student body and all of the staff before the end of the semester.